October is Fraud and Financial Awareness Month. For this reason, I think it is a great time to share with you some information about elder abuse and financial scams. As you know, our firm assists a lot of older or vulnerable adults and we enjoy being able to help protect individuals and families from harm. Over the next few weeks, I will introduce the topic of elder abuse and discuss who is at risk. I will also explain why older adults are often a target of abuse and the various types of scams used. Finally, I talk about what to watch for and some ideas on how you can protect those around you.
How common is elder abuse in America?
There are higher rates of elder abuse in the United States than in most countries. The National Council on Aging reported that about 10% of older Americans have experienced some form of elder abuse, with many of the victims exploited more than once. Unfortunately, a high percentage of these crimes go unreported. Therefore it is estimated that only 1 in 24 instances of abuse are actually reported. Understandably, these are alarming statistics!
[A] single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.
Who is at risk for elder abuse?
Many older adults experience medical conditions that can lead to a reliance on a larger network of people to assist with day-to-day activities. This leaves the elder exposed to more opportunities for elder abuse. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Many of us have heard stories about friends and family members being victims. Below is a list of those who are at higher risk for elder abuse:
Individuals who live with mental or physical disabilities.
An elder who lives with someone who is financially dependent on, emotionally disconnected with or resentful of the vulnerable adult.
Socially isolated individuals.
An elder who lacks familial connections or financial means.
Elders who live in institutions or long-term care facilities.
Do you know an aging person who has been exploited or neglected?
Can you think of an instance where an elderly person in your network has been taken advantage of? Is someone in your family receiving phone calls demanding them to pay back taxes? Has a relative suddenly started dating a prince overseas?
These situations are just a fraction of the examples of elder abuse. The rest of the posts this month will go over the most common ways elders are financially exploited, how to spot tricky behavior from others, and what to do if you or someone you care about is a victim.
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In part one of this series , we provided a general overview of the ways that seniors are preyed upon by scammers and those who would seek to gain control of the elderly person’s finances for their own benefit. However, in order to stop fraud, it’s important to know the specifics. The following post will walk you through questions to ask your loved one in order to discover if fraud or exploitation is occurring.
1. Ask older loved ones about suspicious phone calls.
Swindlers often cold-call seniors to get personal information. Here are a few common scams your loved ones should be aware of:
Sweepstakes scams: An elder receives a call that they have “won” a sweepstakes and must provide bank account information for a direct deposit or send a check to pay taxes on their “winnings.”
Grandchild scams: An elder receives a call saying something like, “Grandma, it’s me… please don’t tell my parents.” The caller then claims they are out of town and need to be wired money to make bail, pay for travel expenses, etc.
Voter registration scams: Someone calls about registering the elder to vote, asking for their address, birthday, Social Security Number, or a password or PIN code.
Healthcare scams: An elder may get a call offering discounts on health insurance or a call from someone claiming they work for the government and need a Medicare number or Social Security Number to issue a new card.
Encourage your loved ones to never give out personal information to strangers (or even people claiming to be friends or loved ones) over the phone.
2. Talk with them about their finances.
It’s a wise idea to meet with the senior’s financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, and other advisors so those people know you and can potentially contact you if they believe something suspicious is going on.
But be careful: becoming too involved in a loved one’s financial life may create the appearance of undue influence. It is important to help keep loved ones from being exploited, but you also don’t want to find yourself the subject of a lawsuit claiming that you are the one committing financial exploitation.
3. Keep abreast of changes to their estate plan.
Check to see if a non-relative has been included as a representative or beneficiary, or if any relatives have been cut out of the estate plan since the last time you reviewed it. There may be perfectly reasonable explanations for these changes. However, they could also indicate that someone is trying to manipulate your loved one.
4. Ask about caretakers or sudden “best friends.”
Has a non-relative, long-time friend, or neighbor started spending a lot of time with your loved one? Do they suddenly have a new “best friend” or someone who takes care of them at home?
These developments could be a sign that someone is trying to work their way into an elder’s life in order to exploit them, financially or otherwise. It might seem innocent enough (and even generous!) for a new friend to “hang out” with an elder and to take care of their medical and financial needs. But because of the potential for abuse, we recommend hiring caregivers through a reputable agency. Obtain reviews and make sure they have the proper licensure and training.
Making new friends and meeting people is fine, and even encouraged to minimize isolation that many older adults face. However, it’s important to communicate with your loved one to make sure they are not giving un-vetted people undue control over their life.
5. Investigate sudden missing items or extravagant new purchases.
It is important to talk with your elderly loved ones about finances so that, if they consent, you can regularly review their statements and stay up to date on other financial developments.
Have there been any large cash transfers? Vehicles suddenly missing or new ones showing up unexpectedly? Heirloom household items that have disappeared? Fancy or expensive new gadgets showing up that are out of character for your loved one? This can indicate that someone has convinced the elder to give them assets or that they have duped the elder into buying something they don’t need.
A strong estate plan can help prevent elder fraud.
Keep an open dialogue with neighbors, friends, and advisors connected to older relatives or other loved ones. The more people you have looking out for your loved one, the less likely it is that someone can take advantage of them without your knowing.
Finally, you should encourage your loved one to meet privately with an experienced Nashville elder law attorney to determine what they can do to protect themselves from bad actors. Having a legal document in place naming a trusted advisor, or agent, to help handle finances can help protect them. An experienced elder law attorney also knows what questions to ask and the warning signs to look for in suspected elder exploitation. If you would like help creating these documents or navigating your next steps, please call our Nashville elder law firm at (615) 846–6201 or schedule a consultation .
As we gracefully age, we become targets for some crafty criminals who will entice you to give them your personal information and money. Most of the time we don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late! Here’s a detailed list of the top scams commonly used on older adults to take their money.
1. Telephone Scams on the Elderly
This is one of the most popular telephone scams on older adults. It is a sinister scam as it preys on your emotions. Basically, a con artist will call posing as a frantic family member who is in serious distress or trouble. They may also pretend to be a lawyer or police officer that is calling on the behalf of the troubled grandchild. The goal is to get you to wire money immediately or give a bunch of cash to a courier. If successful, the scammers will likely continue to call for money.
If you receive a phone call asking you to donate to a charity for a recent disaster, it is likely a scam. Do your research and only donate to charities you’ve fully vetted.
The IRS, Medicare, Social Security or other government offices will never call you! For example, if a fake IRS agent calls you with aggressive threats saying you owe money and must pay immediately, it is a scam! The government does not contact people this way and they don’t work this fast either (we all know this from personal experience). Typically, the government will contact you via USPS mail.
Unexpected prize and lottery scams
These scams bait you into thinking you must pay a “fee” to collect a prize you’ve won. This scam relies on you forgetting that you have entered the competition. These scams can come at you via telephone, email, mail, text message and social media.
Tech support scams
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be tech support, hang up! In this scam, someone will contact you via phone, pop-up, or email saying you have a security breach within your computer. They will ask you for your username and password or ask you for permission to remotely take over your computer. The goal of the scammer is to find your confidential information and use it to take your money!
2. Computer Scams on Older Adults
SMS or email phishing scams
Phishing scams come from well-known sources such as your bank or investment company. These messages look legit and prompt you to click on links that redirect to fake websites. Once you enter your username and password into the fake website, the hackers have your credentials and have control over your accounts.
Malware and ransomware
You will see this scam in emails and on social media. The goal of the scammer is to get you to click on a link in an email or an interesting article. Once you are on their website, they will ask you to download some software. Unfortunately the software contains a virus designed to steal your personal information. Sometimes the hacker will hold the information on your computer “hostage” until you pay a ransom. If you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee your computer will be unlocked.
There are a lot of scammers who pretend to be looking for love on social networking and dating apps. These scammers use a fake identity and manipulate you into giving them your money!
3. Fraudulent Business that Target Older Adults
Legitimate services with illegitimate businesses
As an older adult you will be heavily marketed for a reverse mortgage, credit repair, or refinancing. There are a lot of fake businesses that will offer you free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!
Counterfeit prescription drugs
Not only does this scam hurt your wallet, it hurts your health. There are a lot of fake websites that are more than happy to sell you counterfeit prescriptions.
Fake Anti-aging products that scam older adults
Online shopping has made it easier for criminals to sell you anti-aging cosmetics. Unfortunately you might be buying a product that contains arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, aluminum, and biological contaminants. These products are unsafe and really gross!
4. Tricky People who “Help” Older Adults
Caregivers who scam the elderly
It’s natural to trust those who are close to you. This includes hired help and family members or friends who provide you with caregiving services. Unfortunately there are tricky people out there who will manipulate or outright steal your money and possessions.
While most financial advisors are trustworthy, there are a few rotten ones out there that like to scam older adults. These “advisors” might make trades that line their pocket yet empty yours. They might try to involve you in a Ponzi scheme, promise unrealistic returns, or simply walk off with your money because they aren’t who they say they are.
Beware the door-to-door salesman offering to repair your roof for cheap because they have leftover material from another job. Also beware the “repairman” who asks to inspect your home without you asking. These scammers want you to pay cash up front and are not bonded and insured. Never prepay for services you might not receive!
Another tricky person is the funeral director who tries to sell you something you don’t need such as a casket when your loved one is being cremated. These funeral directors are counting on you being confused because of your grief and loss.
While this list was fairly detailed, it is not exhaustive! New methods to scam older adults appear every day. Make it a habit to check the federal agency websites to stay up to date about current financial scams. I want you to be aware of what’s out there!
And finally, I want you to think:
What steps are you taking to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of financial fraud?
Do you have a financial inventory? Are you aware of what you could lose?
Do you have a plan for protecting your finances in the future?
In my next blog I will discuss several methods you can use to protect yourself and your money!
This month we will discuss the subject of powers of attorney. In week one, we will discuss how to name a financial power of attorney. This is also known as a durable power of attorney.
There are many things to consider when appointing a financial power of attorney (aka an attorney-in-fact). This is an important position. Whoever you appoint would have the ability to make decisions regarding how you manage your finances. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to focus on choosing someone who is organized, trustworthy, and financially responsible.
What powers does an agent have when they have a financial power of attorney?
As stated earlier, the agent with a financial power of attorney can handle your finances just as you can. An agent will have the ability to go to your bank and handle banking transactions. They can contact your investment account broker and manage those funds. They can handle your insurance and sell your house. Of course, you want your agent to only make financial transactions in your best interest while you are incapacitated.
Can things go horribly wrong? Yes! Your agent has the power to clean out all of your bank accounts and sell your home. Heck, if they wanted to, they could take your assets, move to Fiji, and set up a little beach bar! I want to reiterate: It’s important that you choose someone who would never even think of doing something like that. You need to choose someone who will only have your best interest at heart.
Who should be your financial power of attorney?
When considering who should serve as a financial power of attorney, a lot of people are compelled to choose someone close to them. A lot of times this will be a relative, such as your children or possibly a sibling, but it doesn’t have to be. The agent could also be a close friend or even a professional if that is who fits that role in your life. In our practice, we like to make sure that our client acknowledges this very important point: the person you name as your agent in a financial power of attorney will have the ability to handle your finances pretty much the same as you will.
Choose an agent who can communicate effectively
Not only do you need to trust your agent, but we also recommend that you find someone that other people trust! While this element is not completely necessary, it may be important to you that your agent be relied upon to communicate important information effectively with the people in your life.
For example, if one of your relatives says to your agent: “Hey, my Aunty saved a lot of money and invested it well, how much does she have now and what has the spent money been used for?”. Ideally, you would have an agent that relatives intuitively trust to spend your funds in your interest. However, it would be really awesome if your agent took the time out of their day to respond thoroughly to your relative’s questions.
Your agent should be good at bookkeeping
In a perfect world, your agent with financial powers of attorney would be held accountable for the transactions coming out of your assets. A good agent can effectively answer questions about spending and back it up with good bookkeeping!
An agent with power of attorney does not have to live in your state
As we mentioned before, the era of digital banking is here and it allows us the option to choose from a larger pool of agents, regardless of their location. Now, many people think that their agent under a power of attorney cannot be someone who lives out of state. And that is simply not true. Sometimes it helps to have somebody who lives in the state, but that is not a requirement in Tennessee. We do so many things by email and telephone, texting, and online business transactions that your financial power of attorney person, your agent, will likely be handling any business transactions online.
Choose an agent who will outlive you
While this is not a requirement, it is a good idea to think about someone who will outlive you. Generally, when you are using your power of attorney, it’s when you’re incapacitated. While there are times when a durable power of attorney is used on a temporary basis, such as during a medical event, it is more likely going to be during a period when we are at the end of our lives and are experiencing some type of ongoing health condition that is not likely to improve. We recommend that you look for an agent who can help on a continuing basis. A well-suited agent allows everyone to relax and enjoy the time you have left on this earth.
Who should NOT be your durable power of attorney
Again, while it may seem obvious, it is important to reiterate that anyone who is untrustworthy, unlikeable, terrible with money, incapable of balancing a checkbook, or unable to effectively use online banking might not be the best choice for becoming an agent of financial power of attorney. The goal is to find someone who can keep good accounting records and knows exactly where your money went, down to every last penny! A good agent is someone who is willing to communicate with everyone without hesitation. The main point is that no one in your circle should be concerned that your agent is taking advantage of you if you are incapacitated.
Now, if you are not incapacitated, your agent should only be acting if you are telling them to do so. Even if you have your power of attorney take effect immediately, your agent can and should only act under your direction. If you find that the agent acts otherwise, there are legal actions you can take against them in court.
A power of attorney is a useful tool for organizing the “adulting” part of your life, especially in incapacitation. A financial power of attorney should be someone that you absolutely trust; someone who will not give pause to others in your life. Someone who is financially responsible and organized, and someone who is familiar with handling online transactions. It does not matter if your agent lives in your state. In short, find an agent you believe will always have your best interest at heart.
There are many types of powers of attorney. Many powers of attorney are used when creating a well-thought-out estate plan. Do you think you could use a durable power of attorney in Nashville? Schedule an initial call to see if we can help you with your situation.